Snow measuring in Valdez takes a group effort
Partnership formed to track snow and rain after weather service cuts
Measuring snowfall in Valdez has been tricky in recent years - but a partnership between the city, the weather service and a local nonprofit group is hoping to bring back accurate snow statistics this winter.
The National Weather Service (NWS) began cutting personnel in Valdez several years back but continued to keep statistics on snowfall in Valdez until March 2013 - leaving a void in tracking snow in Alaska's snowiest city.
Valdez averaged 326.3 inches of snow per year before last year's snow drought, which measured just over 100 inches for the season.
Last winter, the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, a nonprofit organization fronted by Pete and Sarah Carter, began tracking Valdez snowfall on behalf of the weather service.
"To get us back into the national climate data base we've created a partnership with the federal government's NOAA NWS, the City of Valdez and our local non-profit, Valdez Avalanche Center," Carter said in an email to the Valdez Star.
The collaboration is the result of several years of work spearheaded by the Carters - who in the past have lobbied the city of Valdez to support avalanche safety programs in the area. Their efforts have bore fruit.
"The NWS is erecting and maintaining a weather station at the pump house on West Egan behind the tsunami warning tower," Carter said. "The city has allowed the use of the land and is supporting both the collection and dissemination of the weather observations. Valdez Avalanche center workers will ensure observations are made every day of the year."
The closure of the Valdez office of the weather service has been a contentious issue for several years.
"The reason daily weather observations are important is with the closing of regional weather forecasting offices and the centralizing of weather forecasting a lot of the weather forecast is generated by computers," Carter said. "As with anything with computer generated products, the better quality of data entered into the computer, the better the resulting answers."
Carter said the collaboration will hopefully bring the best of both worlds to the art of weather forecasting in the area.
"Our NWS public forecast is a mixture of both the computer generated product and a human forecaster's skilled assessments," he said. "Having a good record of the actual weather that occurs helps both the computer and the human improve their work."
The groups website, Alaskasnow.org, contains as much real time information on snow conditions on Thompson Pass and another avalanche hot zones throughout Alaska - with the goal of giving backcountry sports enthusiasts the information they need to be safe.
Carter said the Weather Service also produces a twice daily spot forecast for Thompson Pass. It can be found on the South Central Alaska Mountain Forecast on the NWS website.
The project's infrastructure it is not yet complete.
"I'm really hoping it happens by winter," Carter said. " Which is technically December 21."
In the meantime, the group is accurately measuring snowfall in Valdez.